Lincoln Chafee, the former Republican senator and independent governor from Rhode Island who ran for president in the 2016 cycle as a Democrat, had been seeking the Libertarian Party (L.P.) presidential mantle this year. He announced Sunday that he was ending his campaign.
"This adventure obviously changed with the frightening corona virus outbreak even as our campaign made a successful transfer to virtual connections via social media," Chafee wrote in that post.
But in a phone interview yesterday, Chafee granted that "to be honest, I wasn't getting good traction even before coronavirus, so that was just one more factor."
The virus also made Chafee think it likely the L.P. will ultimately choose to nix an in-person convention to select their presidential nominee; that was another sign he'd better pull out, Chafee says. He believed he'd have more of a fighting chance were he sure he'd have the chance to talk to and meet the entire delegate body assembled before their vote in May.
Chafee found on the campaign trail that many Libertarians didn't want to continue the experiment of nominating party newcomers with executive experience outside the L.P. itself, such as 2016's Gary Johnson and William Weld ticket (despite how historically well they did, pulling nearly 4.5 million votes and well over 3 percent nationally).
"I'd hear from delegates that 'we tried that model and still didn't win states or make the debates,'" Chafee said, noting that party activists seemed to be more interested in long-term party loyalists.
Chafee had not been setting the L.P. field afire in fundraising or in apparent delegate or voter support. (As of the start of March, the Federal Election Commission reports his campaign as having raised around $62,000.)
Chafee launched his campaign four months ago, under a banner of "No More Wars. No More Reckless Spending." He acknowledged in an interview then that while a latecomer to L.P. membership, he believed he could win party love since "on the big issues I've been very consistently anti-war, anti-deficit, [and] strongly in favor of civil liberties."
Chafee sounded slightly disappointed that he perceived a "Libertarian establishment" that wasn't sufficiently supportive of his anti-war campaign. "They didn't rally around and frankly I came to understand, I think, that [many in the L.P.] pay lip service" to the anti-war cause but don't value it the most highly. (For now, many of those who most highly value the anti-war stance seem inclined toward Jacob Hornberger.)
"It's where my strongest bona fides are," he said, with his "clear record of being right and being in the minority and taking heat for it. I was only in 23 out of 100 and I was the only Republican" to vote against the Iraq War in the Senate. Chafee thought that would win him enough points that he wouldn't be seen as insufficiently radical where it mattered most for the party. But he felt he was hearing a "deafening silence" from party powers when it came to getting behind him.
Chafee knows his past of not being sufficiently libertarian on the Second Amendment earned him many enemies in the L.P. who seemed concerned with nothing else. Though he's never been a gun rights activist, he mentioned "I did my best—with all sincerity also!—to say I would protect the Second Amendment" but suspected many didn't believe him.
"I did have high hopes about getting into presidential debates," Chafee admitted. He thinks the major party candidates may prove even more polarizing than in 2016, and saw "potential for the progressives to split off from the Democrats" if former Vice President Joe Biden wins the nomination. He thinks he has appeal since he "overlap[s] with progressives on gay rights, pro-choice, anti-capital punishment—and [being] anti-war, of course." Chafee has also previously said that "a strongly open-borders approach to immigration" could attract newer audiences to the L.P.
Chafee did not say he was formally endorsing any other candidate, and stressed that while he had had no discussions with her about any of this, he suggested in a major party field of two old white men that the L.P. might want to take a good look at Jo Jorgensen, "a party loyalist no doubt." Jorgensen is a senior lecturer in psychology at Clemson University and was the L.P.'s vice presidential nominee in 1996.
While Chafee did not authoritatively state he'd take another swing at the Libertarian presidential crown down the line, he hinted at it strongly. "I am a glutton for punishment," he said. "I do enjoy campaigning, and I've done it for so many years with some success and I do enjoy it."